Nottingham researchers set to work on bacteria study to find first Covid-19 antiviral drug

Molecular microbiologists at the University of Nottingham are working with biotech firm Cyanetics and Public Health England (PHE) to discover a novel antiviral medication to effectively treat Covid-19.

In its first phase, the Innovate UK-funded project will rapidly screen strains of a harmless bacteria called Streptomyces, which is found in abundance in soil (and is even responsible for the pleasant earthy smell after it rains). Importantly, the microbe has the ability to produce natural compounds (called secondary metabolites) with potent therapeutic benefits.  

Already used to produce many well-known antibiotics, Streptomyces exhibit not only antimicrobial but also valuable antiviral properties. This study aims to find a specific strain of Streptomyces that can effectively target SARS-CoV-2 - the novel coronavirus behind the current global pandemic.
To achieve this, scientists from Cyanetics will be using their laboratories in Stevenage to test over 100 Streptomyces species from a unique collection held by the Sustainable Processing Group (SPT) at the University of Nottingham.
Assistant Professor in White Biotechnology, Dr Samantha Bryan is custodian of the Streptomyces strains in question. She will lead a team of SPT researchers to support Cyanetics on the preliminary laboratory investigations in response to COVID-19.
Dr Bryan, who is based in the Faculty of Engineering, said, “There is an urgent need to discover new and effective antivirals against SARS-CoV-2. Therefore, given the plethora of secondary metabolites that Streptomyces produce, they're an untapped resource for new antiviral medications. Large-scale screening, such as the one we are undertaking, increases the likelihood of identifying such antivirals.”
In phase two of the six-month project, researchers will send a shortlist of some 40 viable compounds that may inhibit in vitro replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in cell culture to PHE scientists for further testing towards drug development.
Founding scientist and CEO of Cyanetics, Daniel Read, said, “Governments worldwide are engaged in new prevention technologies such as vaccines and testing. However, in order to effectively manage this crisis, we require pharmaceutical solutions such pharmaceuticals which both prevent and treat viral infections. 
“Armed with candidate compounds showing activity against SARS-CoV-2, we will have a brand new and promising commercial opportunity, presenting highly attractive opportunities for additional funding and investment. A follow-on project would look at efficacy, toxicology and scale-up of candidates.”
Executive Chair, Innovate UK, Dr Ian Campbell, said: “Businesses from all over the UK have answered our call rapidly to meet the challenges we face today and in the future through the power of innovation. The ideas we have seen can truly make a significant impact on society and improve the lives of individuals, especially those in vulnerable groups and enable businesses to prosper in challenging circumstances.”
For this project, entitled ‘Discovering Anti-Viral Treatments for COVID-19 Infections’, £50,000 in Innovate UK funding was awarded to Cyanetics through the Business-led innovation in response to global disruption (de minimis) competition in order to deliver the initial research. This has potential to form the basis for a joint venture on delivery of promising candidates.
The University of Nottingham has secured over £2m of Innovate UK funding to date for projects to help in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

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